Containers are tangible assets that, like everything else, does not last forever. But how long can the same container supply people with goods and what conditions can a container have? There’s no universal grading system for the condition of shipping containers and a lot of confusion with all the different abbreviations (WWT, CW, IICL etc.) but shipping companies use the structure and aesthetics of a container for grading. Both of these factors can be considered independently of the other, for example; a container may be structurally sound for shipping purposes but may look unsightly due to rust and paint degradation, or lots of small dents. This means that although two companies might both classify their containers in terms of grade A, B, or C, it does not mean that you can always compare two WWT containers with each other.

Some of the most popular uses for new and used shipping containers are for workshops, homes, carports, cabins, off-grid living spaces, medical centres, information kiosks, tool sheds, home additions, office spaces for home or work, guest houses, hotels, and the like – and moving cargo of course. When you buy a container consider: Initially, it is wise to consider the past life of your prospective shipping container. Was it used to haul around nuclear waste, biohazards, toxic chemicals, alien spacecraft, or trash? You might be getting a deal, but is this what you want? Additional questions could be “How many trips has it made?” Shorter and more frequent trips mean more wear and tear from loading and unloading or “Where did it travel most?” From the sun-baked Australian costs to the frozen deathly cold areas deep near our North and South poles, the constant changes in frigid temperatures can cause drastic elemental damage such as rust and warping of the corrugated steel.

From new built to storage: The lifecycle of a shipping container

China is producing more than 90 percent of the sea containers in the world, which is definitely not a coincidence. Not only does the export-oriented country have cheap labour cost and are a large recycler of steel, it also plays an important strategic role in the life cycle of the shipping container aimed at maximizing the time in use. In most instances, new shipping sea containers manufactured in China are loaded and shipped to destinations like The United States or Europe for sale. These containers are the so-called “one trip” containers that are sold when they arrive at their destinations. Sold as new containers, they only have minor flaws from the one-time use. This approach to container sales extends the lifecycle by ensuring that the container is put into use from the date of manufacturing and not shipped empty at a high transportation cost.

Once arrived at destination, the one-trip-old container is sold and put into use by the buyers, typically being carriers, NVOCCs, shipping lines or similar. The container rarely stays with its first buyer for its entire life, as resale often takes place multiple times. As long as the container is classified as cargo worthy, resales often take place multiple times primarily done on a business to business basis through network or contacts.

The lifespan of the container varies, as it is dependent on multiple factors, such as where the container is used and the amount of damage. For instance, harsh climate and minor damages, incentivising the creation of rust, decreases the lifespan remarkably. In a hasty generalization, containers are cargo worthy and used in shipping for approximately 10-15 years. When containers are no longer deemed for shipping and carrying cargo, innovative and creative individuals can buy the containers for reinvention outside the industry. Alternatively, the steel of the container can be recycled.

From foodgrade to as is: An overview on the different container conditions 

New – “One trip”Container Cargo WorthyWWTAs-is
Wind & watertightYes- guaranteedYes- guaranteedYes- guaranteedNot guaranteed
Floor free of holesYes- guaranteedYes- guaranteedYes- guaranteedNot guaranteed
Doors fully functioningYes- guaranteedYes- guaranteedYes- guaranteedNot guaranteed
Suitable for storageYesYesYesWith repairs
Suitable for exportsYesYesOnly with repairsNo
Suitable for modificationsYesYesYesYes, with repairs
PaintFresh paintFaded paint acceptableFaded paint acceptableFaded paint acceptable
Dents & scratchesMinor dents & scratches acceptableSome dents, repairs and surface rust acceptableMany dents, repairs and surface rust acceptableSignificant dents acceptable
Floors appearanceLike newSome scratches, gouges and patches acceptableMany scratches, gouges and patches acceptableMany scratches, gouges and patches acceptable and potential holes
Best condition availableGood condition, still meets all requirements for shippingNot ready for shipping, but perfect for storageNo guarantees

F – Foodgrade Containers/ New

The transport of food sets certain requirements for the shipping container, such as that it has never carried any toxic chemicals or products. Even though the food is packed in bags or similar and hence not in direct contact with the container, the mean of transportation has to be in food graded containers to avoid unnecessary contamination risks

  • Structural condition must be IICL 5 and with valid CSC Plate
  • Highest internal cleanliness and scratches must not exceed 2mm in depth
  • Waterproof and no daylight visible from inside if doors are closed
  • Has not carried any toxic chemicals or products
  • Standard for food grade quality/ import mostly ruled by governments


Grade A Container 

  • New, refurbished or used containers
  • Has only minimal rust and dents
  • Is wind and water tight (WWT)
  • Doors, floor and seals are in great condition
  • Structural condition must be IICL 5 and with valid CSC Plate
  • Interior must be almost mark free
  • Minimal surface rust

Grade B (CW, Cargo worthy)

Cargo worthy: In short CW, means that the shipping container is deemed suitable for cargo transportation under CSC criterions. Another criterion is that the container meets all the standards set in its original specification. Typically, it also implies that the container has a valid CSC, which is a safety approval plate that containers used for international transport must have.

  • At least WWT or IICL 5 with valid CSC Plate
  • Used containers fall in this category
  • Interior will be minimum of 50% mark free, some scruffing or scratching and minor surface rust
  • Floor will be stained or marked and may have minor delamination
  • Exterior may have more prevalent corrosions and dents
  • Container may have small amount of previous repairs


Grade C (WWT, Wind and Water Tight )

In short CW, means that the shipping container condition is deemed suitable for cargo transportation under TIR/UIC/CSC criterions. Another criterion is that the container meets all the standards set in its original specification. Typically, it also implies that the container has a valid CSC, which is a safety approval plate that containers used for international transport must have.

  • Often called wind and water tight or cargo worthy 2
  • Extensive markings, corrosion and scratches
  • Floor marked and may also have moderate delamination
  • Several previous repairs
  • Most common and cheapest
  • Can show wear and tear
  • Often time used storage containers
  • Can be used for shipping but needs valid CSC Plate

Grade D/ E (As is)

Damaged containers that have been taken out of commission in the shipping industry and sometimes not even usable for storage. They could have majority damage on the roof or walls, damaged floors, bad seals, doors that are difficult to open, or structural damage.